Category Archives: My Continuous Improvement

Using Ice Breakers to Reinforce Improvement Steps

Ice breakers are a good way for a facilitator to get to know the team they are facilitating, as well as help the team build a bond together.

I have always used ice breakers to start a day.  It helps get the team engaged to start the day.  Recently, I worked with a couple of guys who took the ice breaker to another level.  They tied the ice breaker into the next phase of the improvement process.

Here are a couple examples:

1.  Stranded on an Island: As we moved to the future state design of the process we used an ice breaker designed around a deserted island.  The group was split into teams and given some time to come up with 5 things they would keep with them on a deserted island.  After a few minutes, each team would state what they would keep and why.

My partner explained that as we move to a future state design there will be a lot of discuss on what to keep and what is extra.  During this time, the team is going to have to come to high agreement of what they process needs and how it will work just like gaining high agreement on what items to keep on the island.

2. Untying the Knot: Half way through the first day of a kaizen event my partner ran an ice breaker designed to untie the human knot.  Everyone bunches in as close as they can.  Each person takes the hand of another person (two hands means each person should have the hand of two different people).  The goal is to untangle the mess so the group is standing in a nice circle.  The trick is no one is allowed to let go of the hands they have grabbed so it is people stepping over people and twisting around to get untangled.

The purpose was to explain that over the next few days the team will feel confused and frustrated but as they keep working as a team the solution will start present itself.  In the end, the team will have a clear picture of the current and future processes and be linked as a team coming out of the event.

These are just a couple I have seen used and plan to incorporate into my portfolio.

Ice breakers can be something fun to loosen the group up also so pick and choose what makes sense for the audience and the situation.

What ice breakers have you used?

My Half Full Glass of Studying

Last week I began really applying myself to my studies for the ASQ CSSBB (Certified Six Sigma Black Belt) exam.  On a personal level, I’m pretty opposed to doing this because I really feel like I am chasing this certification for the piece of paper and no other reason.

My first thoughts in looking at this were pure dread.  I haven’t forgotten what DMAIC stands for, nor have I forgotten what the steps entail.  I haven’t forgotten what the statistics mean or how to interpret them, even if I let software do most of the heavy lifting.   I still remember the quotes from famous quality people in the study manual and can recite the punchline in the Dilbert that is placed in the beginning of the book.  What I did forget was to send in some paperwork on time.  I’ve already taken and passed the test once, but let my certification lapse out of ignorance and inattention.   In that sense this is more of a personal rework loop than a doing-it-right-the-first-time kind of step.

However, once I got past my selfish whining, I realized I could look at this completely differently.  Instead of just trying to cram in enough tidbits to squeak by, I could give myself a personal “Ohno Circle” to study from.  What I’ve found is that I’m not really tied to having to learn the material the same way I did the first time around, so I’m free to focus and explore some of the smaller details I may not have thought through before.  I can try to seek out some new knowledge out of an “old” source.  I guess it’s sort of like me trying to look for new ideas for improvements after the kaizen event report out, except there really is an exam at the end.

I realize I’m stretching the metaphor a bit far, but once I switched the way I looked at my personal learning in the same way as a manufacturing process it opened some new lanes of thought for me.  I am now itching to dig back through and re-read some of the books on my shelf from Ohno and the Toyota Way series and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to see what may be in there.  I’m sure there are things in each book I didn’t pick up the first time or that have slipped from my mind since I first read them.  I really wonder what is out there in the material I already have.  It’s almost too bad I have to wait to get there until I’m done with this test!

Blogging Sidetracked

In order to get the disappointment out of the way early, I’d like to let you know this is more of a house cleaning post.  There isn’t any new (or old) Lean thinking or discussion.

You may (or may not) have noticed that my posts have been pretty sporadic lately.   For those of you that have noticed, I would like to apologize (or tell you “You’re Welcome”…depending on how you feel).  I’d also like to apologize to Matt for my craziness.  I have recently gone through some pretty major life moves…the details of which are inconsequential.  However, getting to the other side has left me with some space to really think openly about what I may have to say and how I may want to say it.  Looking at the next year, for 52 weeks at two posts a week I believe I have 104 topics/ideas/responses that I can effectively fill out.  Looking 5 years in the future, do I have 520?  I have no idea, so I probably won’t worry about burning up my words too quickly.  What will those posts look like?  I’m not sure.  I think some of my themes and concepts have lots of room to expand.  I think that there are some practical and tool based  topics that I can explore.  I think Matt and I have some very fertile ground in exploring different topics either in tandem or in debate.

What does this mean for my contributions here?  Until I run out of things to say, I’ll keep typing.  I’m going to try to focus on things I feel passionate about or where I feel like I can add some unique perspective.  This may mean the posts will be really short or really long.  It may mean I have to face some of my personal ‘elephants in the room’ that I have chosen not to confront out of fear of controversy.  However, I don’t need to stir the pot for attention or to chase page views, so it will be done as respectfully as possible.  In short, I’m going to continue to push myself to share what I have learned and I’m going to do my best to make it worth your time to check the site.  As a reader, all I can ask is your honesty.  If you want to contribute, comment, or debate, please do so as I would like to learn from you, too.  If you think I’m wrong or that something I’m doing stinks, please tell me.  My email address is JoeWilsonLean at gmail dot com.

Thanks for reading.  Here’s to a great second half of 2012.

More on Lean vs Non-Lean Reading

As part of my personal reflection and quest for learning I decided to sign up for a business Book Club offered through the local university.  The ‘club’ would meet once a month and discuss books chosen by local business leaders as a way to share among the business community.  Unfortunately, not enough people signed up to fill this session, so I’m a little bummed out.  For me, I was hoping to use the ‘club’ as a way to stretch my mind a bit on the type of books I seek out.  Unlike Matt’s break from Lean books, I am more looking for new things to balance the Lean material.

Let me explain my thinking…

I recently took an inventory on the last 20 or so books I have read.  Every book I read was either directly a “Lean” book or a book that ended up dovetailing with some aspect of Lean.  This reflection really frightened me.  My worry is that I am stuck in a groove where I’m not really seeking material to stretch my thinking, but more to repeat what I already think in different ways.  My book selection seems to be part of an ongoing confirmation bias where what I am reading echoes what I already think.

I guess there are two ways to look at this.  The first is that I am picking from too shallow of a pool of books and keep ending up with more of the same.  The second is that there is a common thread among the stories of the people and companies that also flows through Lean thinking.  I guess you could say I want to run an experiment where I am using the first way as my hypothesis and trying to prove or disprove it.

Here’s where I could use some help.  I’m looking for recommendations of non-fiction books that aren’t related to Lean.  Preferably ones that you would recommend that seem to be an opposite or counterpoint to Lean.  I’ve heard a saying that the most interesting books in the library are the ones that haven’t been read yet.  The unknown provides a blank canvas that could teach us anything or nothing at all.  I am hoping one of you can provide some inspiration to me or a fellow reader to grow.

Thanks and happy reading.

My Continuous Improvement – Manage Your Career

As I look for ways to improve, I am inspired by other lean thinkers and bloggers.  I see what they are trying and look to how that might work for me.  I try and experiment with things in order to make my job easier and to feel more in control and organized.

I decided to start a series that will be based on what I have tried in order to make my work better.  It may be small or large things and most likely it was an inspiration I got from someone else.  I hope that by passing along what I have learned that it may inspire others the way others have inspired me.

Awhile back I wrote about the career map I had developed to help me understand my career opportunities with my current company.  That has been a great exercise and it has gone through a few revisions since then. Here is a link to my latest revision of my career map.  Career Map – Revision 3

Over the last several months I have been meeting with some leaders at my company to show them my career map.  This is has not been easy for me.  I am not a person who seeks others to talk about myself.  In fact, I hate it. But if I am going to have a successful career I have to build good relationships with leaders.

This may be a big uncomfortable zone for me but I have found it to be very beneficial.   Every leader I have met with respects me for reaching out and talking with them.  They like that I am trying to manage my career and not let my career manage me.  Because of this positive feedback, I keep on setting meetings and get to know more about our leaders.

I have learned some things to help me with these meetings.  One of the biggest is a bio sheet.  This was recommended by a Vice President who is also introverted and it helped him break the ice with people he met for career discussions or when a new boss came in.  The bio sheet tells a little bit about your family, interests outside of work, interests at work, and a short description of something you are currently working on.  Send the sheet ahead of time to the person you are meeting with.  This helps break the ice and start a conversation much more casually.

Also, when you meet make it about the business.  This is my career and my interests and this is how I see it intersecting with the business and the direction it is going.  It shows you are thinking about the company and not just career climbing.  I always explain that while job titles are listed on the career map, it isn’t about the title.  The titles are ones that seem to line up with my interests and skills as a reference point.

While this is way outside my comfort zone, I have found it to be very beneficial to have these discussions.  I have learned a lot about myself and have grown as a leader because of it.

What has worked for you in managing your career?

Influencing Through Role Modeling

For the last couple of weeks I have debated whether I should write this post or not.  I feel the topic of role modeling is important but writing about myself in this manner seems arrogant.  The topic won out and I decided to write the post.  Please understand my intent is to illustrate how role modeling can influence people, not brag or pat myself on my back.

Over the last few months, I have posted blogs about my own continuous improvement that have been inspired by others.  Some of the topics have been reflection, stand-up desk, and personal kanban (here and here).  I tried some of these things out to improve and change my work.  I didn’t realize it at the time but I was role modeling behaviors of continuous improvement that others at work were noticing.

People started asking me about things I was trying out.  It wasn’t long before I noticed a couple of more people with stand-up desks.  Then others with personal kanban boards being tried.  Lastly, seeing others doing more reflection at the end of meetings or at the end of the week.

It felt good to see others trying new things because of what they saw me doing.  My intent wasn’t to change others but to improve my own work.  As I did, others picked up on it little by little and started trying some of the same things.

It re-enforced the need to always be aware of my actions because you never know who is watching and will pick up on them.  As leaders, we want to send the right message.

My Continuous Improvement: Outside the Lean Circle

In January, Karen Wilhelm did a blog post for John Hunter’s Management Improvement Blog CarnivalIn the post, Karen talked about setting time aside to learn by reading other blogs.

At the end of the post, Karen pointed out, with a fantastic graphic, how much the lean community is circling back around and reviewing itself over and over again.

I was part of Jamie Flinchbaugh’s Blog Carnival for John’s site and I am very appreciative.  I had been blogging for less then a year and it gave Beyond Lean some more exposure.  But, Karen’s post got me thinking about the blogs I read (and still do) and learning.  If I wanted to expand my learning circle I needed to read some blogs that weren’t lean related.

I found some about business and leadership and decided to give them a try.  A few blogs I didn’t find all that interesting so I moved on to others.  I thought I would share some of the blogs with my readers.  If you want to give them a try…great.  If not, no problem.

All Things Workplace by Steve Roesler – A great blog from an executive management consultant.  There are a lot of posts that relate to the respect for people part of lean.  Practical advice for different situations.

My Flexible Pencil by David Kasprzak – His blog tag line is “Observations of workplace behavior with an eye for waste and value….and anything else that comes to mind.”  David mentions waste and value which lean readers are all over but the blog isn’t about lean.  It is great observations of people and behaviors.  David does a great job of giving examples for his personal life to bring the ideas to life and make them hit home.

SmartBlog on Leadership – The posts are from various people on different aspects of leadership and culture.  The site also posts survey results to some interesting questions like “Does your organization have good alignment?”.  There are some interviews with leaders from companies from time to time also.

Seth’s Blog by Seth Godin – Seth has written a few books about marketing and is well known.  I just finally got around to trying his blog.  His blogs are short and interesting.

Some of these may strike a cord with you or they might not.  It can’t hurt to try new blogs and see what learnings we can get from someone else.

My Continuous Improvement: Second Try at a Personal Kanban







Yesterday, I was a guest blogger over at A Lean Journey blog hosted by Tim McMahon.  The blog post is about my second iteration at a personal kanban board to understand the flow of my work.  I have re-posted the blog below, but I encourage everyone to check out Tim’s blog if you haven’t already.


As I look for ways to improve, I am inspired by other lean thinkers and bloggers.  I see what they are trying and look to how that might work for me.  I try and experiment with things in order to make my job easier and to feel more in control and organized.

I decided to start a series that will be based on what I have tried in order to make my work better.  It may be small or large things and most likely it was an inspiration I got from someone else.  I hope that by passing along what I have learned that it may inspire others the way others have inspired me.

About three months ago, I posted a blog about my first attempt at a personal kanban.  It was not successful at all.  With some encouragement from fellow blogger Tim McMahon, I reflected more on why it didn’t work and then learned more about how to apply personal kanban.  “Personal Kanban” by Jim Benson and Tonianne Barry was a helpful resource for me.

At the end of my previous post, I talked about digitizing the my kanban board.  I almost fell prey to a common error…..looking for a technology solution when a process has not even been established.  I was tempted by the dark side, but resisted.  A digital format may be what I need in the future but first I must establish a process that works.

The second try at a personal kanban board has been very successful.  Here is a picture of my board.  It isn’t very clear, but I think it will help with the discussion.

My value stream is Ready (my queue of work), Doing (what I am working on), Pen (items I have worked on but waiting for input), and Done.  I have set my max for Doing and Pen at 3 items.  I move items for Ready to Doing after I have moved all items from Doing to Done or Pen.  This prevents one thing from sitting in the Doing column for a long time because I move the other two items and avoid the third.

Down in the bottom right-hand corner I have a color key.  The color of the Post-It notes is related to a specific area of work.

Also, I have blog posts that I do weekly.  It doesn’t matter what day the posts are written but I would like to write 3 a week.  It would get monotonous if I used Post-Its for writing three blog posts every week. Instead of using Post-Its, I put up three check boxes.  I put a check after in th box after I finish a blog post.  The section below it is a place I can put an idea for a blog post.  When I want to write a post, I can grab one of the ideas from that section.

The board has helped me keep track of my work and made it visual to my boss all that I have going on.  It has helped my boss understand where I am spending most of my time.

One of the keys is to choose the correct work chunk to put on a Post-It.  Too small of a item is a quick to-do.  An example of something too small would be to send an email or make a call.  Too big of a chunk and nothing will ever move.  XYZ Project would be too big.  There is a middle ground.  Breaking the XYZ Project into smaller chunks has helped me.  Create charter for project.  Study the current state of the process.  Update action item list.  These are examples of the middle ground that I have found.

I hope this helps others looking at trying a personal kanban.  It isn’t easy, but when it works it feels good and keeps the work flowing.  Now I get to go check a box for blog posts!

My Continuous Improvement – Stand-up Desk

As I look for ways to improve, I am inspired by other lean thinkers and bloggers.  I see what they are trying and look to how that might work for me.  I try and experiment with things in order to make my job easier and to feel more in control and organized.

I decided to start a series that will be based on what I have tried in order to make my work better.  It may be small or large things and most likely it was an inspiration I got from someone else.  I hope that by passing along what I have learned that it may inspire others the way others have inspired me.

One idea that I have gotten from others like Jamie Flinchbaugh (here) and Kevin Meyer (here and here) is the stand-up desk.  I read about the benefits of a stand-up desk.  It is healthier.  It makes it easier to drive the ‘go and see’ behavior.  It makes you more accessible to your employees and so on.

When I was assigned to a manufacturing facility, I got myself a stand-up desk out in the middle of the production area I was working with.  It was great.  I could see what actually was happening at any time.  The employees liked having access to me without having to leave their production area.  People who came to see me to chat didn’t stay long because they didn’t like to stand, so I also became more productive.

Then I transitioned to our corporate office.  I am now working with more office environment processes.  After a couple of months of sitting in a chai I was going nuts.  I asked for a stand-up desk.  There was some crazy red-tape to get through but a couple of months ago I got it.  I have a nice sized cubicle, so I took a section and had it raised with the help of our ergonomic expert.

It isn’t pretty but it works very well.  I am able to get some of the antsy-ness out from spending so many years in manufacturing and walking on the floor.  I noticed more of my colleagues stopping by to ask questions.  More importantly, I got off my lazy can and now go seek out people to ask questions.  I don’t just pick up a phone and call people that are 50 feet away.  And finally, as you can see I can enjoy the nice view out the windows.  Even if it is the aluminum siding of another building.

I get some crazy looks and sometimes my cubicle neighbors can feel uncomfortable because they don’t know if they should be saying something to me.  I have even been used as a landmark.  “I sit in the cube next to the guy standing.  You can’t miss him.”  That might be because I am 6’2″.

I have enjoyed it and it shows that it can work in an office environment as well as a manufacturing environment.

Redesign to the Beyond Lean Blog

A couple of months ago, I had a post about changing the look of the blog site.  I finally got around to making some changes.  I figured there was no better time than the 1st anniversary of the site, which was last Friday.

I am limited in my resources and know how but I knew that I wanted it to be more readable.  I felt the font on the previous layout was small.  This design has a font that is easier to read and the space for the body of the post is wider.

You can still connect to me via RSS or Twitter.  The half hidden icons in the upper right corner are quick easy ways to do it.  I am still working on a LinkedIn connection.  You can still have an email subscription which is on the right sidebar.

My favorite feature is on the sidebar.  Under the email subscription is a feature to search for posts in different ways.

  • Green Folder – Shows the categories the posts are under.  The number of posts for the category is in parenthesis.
  • Blue Tag – Shows the most commonly used takes.  The larger the font the more times the tag has been used.
  • Grey Clock – Shows the Archive of the posts by month.  The number of posts for the month is in parenthesis.
  • Orange Star – Displays the top ten blog posts by the number of comments.  The parenthesis show the number comments for the post.
  • Orange Comment Bubble – Displays the last eight comments made on the site.

There still may be some more tweaks to come, but over all this is the major change.  I hope everyone likes it.